NCAAF Team Report - Ohio State - INSIDE SLANT
There weren't many big games in the Big Ten during the second weekend of the season, but a conference team prevailed in the biggest one.
Michigan's 41-30 victory over Notre Dame before 115,109 -- the largest crowd to witness a college football game -- solidified the Wolverines as a front-runner to reach the Big Ten championship game and a potential national contender along with Ohio State. Quarterback Devin Gardner was dynamic against the Irish and he looked good, too, wearing a number 98 jersey as a tribute to Michigan's 1940 Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon.
"This isn't the game that we want -- the Big Ten championship, the Rose Bowl game -- (but) this is a pretty big game," Gardner said. "115,109, that's how many people were there, not to mention the people that were watching on TV, the only game on. It's amazing to be able to participate in something like this, but this isn't the big one that we really want."
The big news with the Wolverines' biggest rival concerns Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who went down with a knee injury in the first quarter of the Buckeyes' 42-7 home victory over San Diego State. Backup Kenny Guiton was more than adequate as a replacement, but Miller's health will be a concern going forward for Ohio State's Big Ten and BCS championship hopes.
The most surprising outcome from the weekend had to come from Champaign, Ill., where Illinois put it on Cincinnati 45-17 and moved to 2-0. Cincinnati had routed Purdue 42-7 a week earlier, making the Fighting Illini's victory stand out even more, especially after they finished with a 2-10 record a year ago and lost their final nine games.
Perhaps the most disappointing result for a Big Ten team with heightened expectations this season was Indiana's 41-35 loss at home to Navy. The Hoosiers showed offensive prowess for the second consecutive week, but the defense continues to be suspect after the Midshipmen ran wild with their triple-option attack.
Indiana was the only conference team to lose in Week 2. Nine of the 12 teams are 2-0. All 12 have at least one win.
Game: Illinois 45, Cincinnati 17. After the Fighting Illini's unimpressive home win over FCS opponent Southern Illinois in their opener, another gloom-and-doom season appeared to be a possibility. But Illinois came after Cincinnati with a vengeance on Saturday, rolling up 522 yards of offense and getting a strong performance from quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
Takeaway: Scheelhaase looked as good as he ever has in new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's offense, which appeared to befuddle the Bearcats. The senior completed 26 of 37 passes for 312 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. The four TD passes equaled a career high in a game and matched his total from the 2012 season.
But it was not just Scheelhaase. The Illini spread the wealth on offense, with nine receivers catching at least one pass. On the ground, Illinois racked up 210 yards, including a 29-yard end-round touchdown by wide receiver Ryan Lankford.
A 12-play, 99-yard drive in the third quarter helped the Illini pull away for their second victory, which equals last season's wins total.
The Illini defense held the Bearcats to 3-of-13 on third-down conversions and had a goal-line stand in the third quarter, stopping Cincinnati at the 1-yard line.
A significant test awaits the Illini this week when they travel to Chicago's Soldier Field to take on No. 20 Washington.
Next: vs. Washington, Sept. 14, Soldier Field, Chicago
Game: Navy 41, Indiana 35. The Hoosiers gave up 444 yards on the ground to Navy's triple-option offense after facing the Midshipmen last year and the defense supposedly working on stopping the Middies' attack during the preseason. The Indiana offense simply couldn't score enough points to offset the defense's deficiencies.
Takeaway: Indiana continues to be optimistic about its chances to improve this season, but the same old questions about the defense won't go away -- particularly after the disheartening performance against Navy.
The Hoosiers, 12?-point favorites at home, fell behind 17-0 early in the second quarter and couldn't overcome the deficit. Navy controlled the ball and the clock with 24 rushing first downs, tying a Memorial Stadium record. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson also put his defense in an early bind when the Hoosiers failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line, giving Navy a short field to score and go up 14-0.
Indiana sophomore quarterback Nate Sudfeld tried his best to lead a rally, completing 31 of 42 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns -- all career bests -- but Navy ran out the clock after Sudfeld's TD pass to tight end Ted Bolser with 3:53 left.
Wilson continues to rotate quarterbacks, starting Tre Roberson over Sudfeld, but that could change based on Sudfeld's performances to start the season.
The Hoosiers now have scored 108 points in two games but face non-conference challenges the next two weeks against unbeaten Bowling Green and Missouri.
Next: Bowling Green, Sept. 14
Game: Iowa 28, Missouri State 14. The Hawkeyes ended a seven-game losing streak, but it was hardly a dominant or convincing effort. They led the FCS opponent that had won five games the past two seasons only7-0 at halftime and 21-14 in the fourth quarter at home but evened their record at 1-1.
Takeaway: Ending the losing streak was the biggest thing for Iowa this week after stumbling in the opener against Northern Illinois. Quarterback Jake Rudock made his second start and completed 19 of 28 passes for 193 yards, but he didn't have a touchdown pass and threw a pick-six that allowed Missouri State to close to 21-14 early in the fourth quarter. Only time will tell whether Rudock, who ran for a TD, continues to improve or the Hawkeyes will have to rely on their running game.
Mark Weisman carried the offensive load and appears to be Iowa's best option to move the ball consistently. He had a career-high 30 carries for 180 yards and two touchdowns. The Hawkeyes totaled 296 yards on the ground.
Iowa's defense seems to the team's strength after two games. It forced two turnovers and held Missouri State to 196 total yards.
The annual rivalry matchup with Iowa State is up next. It should be winnable for Iowa even though it's in Ames, where the Hawkeyes have lost three of the past four games. The Cyclones lost to FCS Northern Iowa in their opener. This game might be for bragging rights to the second-best team in the state this year.
Next: at Iowa State, Sept. 14
Game: Michigan 41, Notre Dame 30. The Wolverines were led by quarterback Devin Gardner's four touchdown passes and one rushing TD in their last meeting with the Fighting Irish for the foreseeable future. The win was Michigan's fourth straight over Notre Dame in Ann Arbor.
Takeaway: The multi-talented Gardner is finally out of the shadow of Denard Robinson and he looked awfully good against the Notre Dame defense. He completed 21 of 33 passes for 294 yards and ran 13 times for 82 yards. He did throw one bad interception that resulted in a touchdown and kept the Irish in the game.
"I made a horrible decision," Gardner said. "But the defense gave me a place to stand. They told me they believed in me and I finished it."
His favorite target was Jeremy Gallon, who had career highs of three touchdowns and 184 yards receiving. And Fitzgerald Toussaint helped balance the Michigan attack with 71 yards rushing on 22 carries.
Coach Brady Hoke will be willing to live with Gardner's mistakes as long as he continues to plant the seeds for success on offense. And the Wolverines had to like the rhythm they found after committing six turnovers last year in South Bend.
Now Michigan has to worry about maintaining its momentum, but Gardner doesn't think that will be a problem.
"We still have unfinished business in the season," Gardner said. "This isn't the game. It's only the second game of the year. We have much bigger goals."
Next: vs. Akron, Sept. 14
MICHIGAN STATE (2-0)
Game: Michigan State 21, South Florida 6. Defense carried the Spartans for the second straight week, scoring two of their three touchdowns in a lackluster win over the Bulls.
Takeaway: For Michigan State's offense, Saturday's game was more of the same. The offense went without scoring for three quarters before Jeremy Langford ran 2 yards for a touchdown at the end of a 33-yard drive.
Not even a change at quarterback could jump-start the Spartans. Connor Cook got the nod over Andrew Maxwell, last year's starter, and passed for only 32 yards and lost a fumble. Maxwell didn't play in the first half and was 4 of 9 for just 40 yards after halftime. Redshirt freshman Tyler O'Connor also saw time at quarterback.
With Michigan State producing only 94 yards passing and 265 total yards against a team that was routed by McNeese State a week earlier, coach Mark Dantonio has to be worried about how to make the Spartans more productive.
As long as the defense continues to be solid, the Spartans will be competitive against tougher competition. Sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun was the star on Saturday, returning a fumble and an interception for touchdowns.
The Spartans have one more week to sort out their problems against Youngstown State before going to Notre Dame and wading into the Big Ten schedule.
Next: vs. Youngstown State, Sept. 14
Game: Minnesota 44, New Mexico State 21. The Aggies were no match for a powerful Minnesota ground game that attacked for 342 yards. The Gophers topped 300 yards rushing for the first time since 2007 in boosting their record to 2-0.
Takeaway: New Mexico State is a weak non-BCS team that replaced North Carolina on the Gophers' schedule and not much can be gleaned from Saturday's game other than reinforcing the fact that Minnesota has the ability to run the ball.
Sophomore running back Rodrick Williams rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown and sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson had 122 rushing yards and a touchdown to give the Gophers two rushers with more than 100 yards for the first time since 2011.
Coach Jerry Kill liked the improvement from last week after the Gophers routed UNLV 51-23 in their opener and ran for 221 yards.
"It wasn't just the tailbacks," Kill said. "Our offensive line looked like we executed better in the run game. Philip did an outstanding job taking what the defense gave him. Our running backs ran physical."
Minnesota likes its stable of running backs. Williams replaced starter Donnell Kirkwood, who went down with an ankle injury against UNLV, and freshman Berkley Edwards and junior David Cobb show promise.
With the next three games at home against Western Illinois, San Jose State and Iowa, the Gophers have a shot to start 5-0.
Next: Western Illinois, Sept. 14
Game: Nebraska 56, Southern Mississippi 13. The Cornhuskers bounced back from a narrow win over Wyoming in their opener with a rout in Lincoln. Nebraska opened a 35-6 halftime lead and pulled away to extend Southern Miss' losing streak to 14 games, the longest in FBS.
Takeaway: After Wyoming gained 602 yards against Nebraska last week, the defense accepted coach Bo Pelini's challenge to improve, which is a good sign for the Cornhuskers. Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans returned first-quarter interceptions for touchdowns and Nebraska held Southern Miss to 62 rushing yards (4 in the first three quarters) and 284 total yards. Evans finished with two interceptions.
"I thought we made good progress," Pelini said.
The defense will need to continue its progression this week when No. 16 UCLA visits on Saturday. The Bruins rang up 653 yards of offense last year in at win over the Cornhuskers in Los Angeles.
Offensively, Nebraska did what it needed Saturday against an inferior opponent. Its main weapons were productive. Quarterback Taylor Martinez threw for 170 yards and three touchdowns, and running back Ameer Abdullah rushed for 114 yards and two TDs. The Huskers finished with 285 yards rushing.
Next: vs. UCLA, Sept. 14
Game: Northwestern 40, Syracuse 27. The quarterback-driven Wildcats ran their record to 2-0 behind Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, who combined for 375 yards passing and four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Orange. Northwestern showed plenty of offense even with injured tailback Venric Mark on the sidelined.
Takeaway: Northwestern continues to gain supporters around the country, moving up two spots to No. 17 in the Associated Press poll this week after wins over Cal and Syracuse.
Colter suffered a concussion last week against the Golden Bears but looked awfully good against Syracuse, which lost last week at Penn State. He combined with Siemian for the gaudy passing stats and also led the Wildcats in rushing with 87 yards on 11 carrries.
"He's one of the more dynamic playmakers in the country," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said of Colter. "And he has an unbelievable grasp of the offense."
The tough portion of the non-conference schedule is now behind the Wildcats. They face Western Michigan and Maine the next two weeks before an Oct. 5 showdown at home against Ohio State.
Next: Western Michigan, Sept. 14
OHIO STATE (2-0)
Game: Ohio State 42, San Diego State 7. After Heisman Trophy hopeful Braxton Miller was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with a knee injury, the Buckeyes hardly missed a beat with backup Kenny Guiton under center. Guiton completed 19 of 28 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns and added 83 yards rushing and a TD.
Takeaway: Coach Urban Meyer is a big Guiton fan and the backup didn't disappoint him Saturday. Stepping in after Miller suffered a sprained left knee on the Buckeyes' first series of the game, he handed off to freshman Dontre Wilson for a 7-yard touchdown run on the first play and was in command the rest of the day.
Ohio State fans are used to Guiton's heroics, though. He entered the game against Purdue last year and rallied the Buckeyes to a victory.
Miller returned to the sideline wearing a large knee brace, but the Buckeyes didn't need him against the Aztecs, who lost to FCS Eastern Illinois in their opener. Meyer said after the game that Miller likely could have re-entered, but Ohio State wisely played it safe and kept him on the bench. Whether the junior will be available for Saturday's game at Cal remains to be seen. If not, the Buckeyes feel comfortable with Guiton running the offense -- at least against Cal.
Meanwhile, two suspended Buckeyes -- cornerback Bradley Roby and running back Rod Smith ? returned against San Diego State. Smith contributed a touchdown and 11 yards on three carries. Roby is the team's shutdown corner and a Jim Thorpe Award candidate.
Next: at Cal, Sept. 14
PENN STATE (2-0)
Game: Penn State 45, Eastern Michigan 7. Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg overcame a jittery start but continued to look impressive in leading the Nittany Lions with 311 passing yards and a touchdown in the home opener.
Takeaway: It's difficult to assess Penn State or Hackenberg after outings against Syracuse and Eastern Michigan, but no one can argue with a 2-0 start. Hackenberg began Saturday's game rather shakily, losing a fumble that resulted in an Eastern Michigan touchdown and missing his first three passes and four of his first five, before he warmed up.
Allen Robinson had 129 yards receiving, including a 45-yard touchdown catch, and the Nittany Lions had two 100-yard rushers. Akeel Lynch ran for 108 yards on 13 carries and Bill Belton also had 108 on nine attempts as Penn State totaled 251 yards on the ground.
Penn State's defense pitched a shutout. Eastern's only score came on the fumble recovery.
Maybe it was the opponent or the NCAA sanctions, but Beaver Stadium was far from full. There were sections of empty seats in the upper sections. The next two games against UCF and Kent State won't be major attractions, either, but an Oct. 12 clash against Michigan likely will bring more fans back, particularly if both teams are unbeaten.
Next: vs. UCF, Sept. 14
Game: Purdue 20, Indiana State 14. Darrell Hazell picked up his first win as Boilermakers coach on Saturday, but it was certainly not a thing of beauty against an in-state FCS opponent. Purdue only managed to secure the victory with a late interception.
Takeaway: After Cincinnati routed Purdue in the opener, the Boilermakers were hoping to get on track against Indiana State. But a tight victory wasn't much of a confidence booster considering the Sycamores gave up 73 points against Indiana a week earlier.
The Purdue offense was not particularly good for a second straight week. One of the Boilermakers' touchdown came on a kickoff return by Akeem Hunt, who also rushed for 82 yards on 22 carries.
Purdue quarterback Rob Henry had a pedestrian game. The senior completed 15 of 24 passes for 150 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions after throwing two picks against Cincinnati a week earlier.
It doesn't get any easier for the Boilermakers with the next three games at home against Notre Dame, at Purdue and at home against 2012 BCS bowl qualifier Northern Illinois, which won at Iowa in its opener.
Next: vs. Notre Dame, Sept. 14
Game: Wisconsin 48, Tennessee Tech 0. The Badgers looked strong against a second vastly inferior opponent to start the season, pounding Tennessee Tech into submission with their running game.
Takeaway: We know Wisconsin can run the ball because that's what the Badgers always do best with their bruising backs and massive offensive linemen. And against FCS opponent Tennessee Tech, the rushers ruled. Wisconsin ran up 387 yards on the ground, with 149 yards from Corey Clement (including a 75-yard touchdown run), 140 yards and a touchdown from Melvin Gordon and 109 yards from James White.
Quarterback Joe Stave contributed to Wisconsin's 606 total yards with 219 yards passing and three touchdowns.
The second shutout to open the season was a feat last accomplished in 1958 by the Badgers. The defense was stout, forcing a fumble on Tennessee Tech's first offensive play.
"A lot of people say 'Your competition this, your competition that.' Well, if you look across the nation, there are a ton of teams, big-time teams playing FCS teams and they're not pitching shutouts," Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward said. "It's really tough to do especially most of the time, halfway through the game, you're going to pull your starters. You need to come in and not lose your intensity. And we were able to do that."
The Badgers should expect more of a test next week at Arizona State. Then, after returning home to face Purdue at home, Wisconsin goes on the road to Ohio State for what could be a key Big Ten battle on Sept. 28.
Next: at Arizona State, Sept. 14
NCAAF Team Report - Ohio State - NOTES, QUOTES
--Will quarterback Braxton Miller be able to play Saturday against Cal? That is the question around Columbus after the junior was injured during Saturday's 49-7 victory over San Diego State. Miller suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee on the Buckeyes' first series when he was tackled and his helmet popped off. He lay on the ground for several minutes before walking off. He could be seen grimacing on the bench as a trainer manipulated the knee before he went to the locker room and then returned later in the half sporting a brace on the knee.
With the talented Miller being such a big part of the offense, any type of long-term absence could impact the Buckeyes -- though capable senior backup Kenny Guiton allays any fears of losing Miller. But the injury doesn't appear serious.
Coach Urban Meyer didn't seem too concerned after the game, indicating that the coaches discussed putting Miller back into the game.
"The things that make him dangerous are his wheels," Meyer said. "We all decided it was best not to (insert him back into Saturday's game). I think there's a chance he'll be ready next week."
--Christian Hackenberg won the starting quarterback job for Penn State in preseason and it appears coach Bill O'Brien made the right call.
The 18-year-old set a freshman passing record with 311 yards after a rocky start in a 45-7 victory over Eastern Michigan on Saturday. In the first two games of his college career, the heralded recruit has completed 70 percent of his passes (45 of 64) for 589 yards and three touchdowns.
Hackenberg's arm strength and his ability to throw deep balls has impressed teammates.
"We've had quarterbacks who throw hard -- I've played with quarterbacks who throw hard,'' tight end Kyle Carter said. "Definitely with him, you gotta be ready because he'll fit it in there so you gotta make sure you're ready to have the ball thrown to you at any time. With him, you just gotta be more aware. You can't just run a route to run a route.''
--- Nebraska's defense scored 73 seconds into Saturday's win over Southern Mississippi when cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste stepped in front of a pass and returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown. The Cornhuskers' earliest score in a game since 1993 set the tone for the afternoon.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was feeling much better about the Blackshirts after they were victimized by Wyoming in the opener.
"I thought it was a lot cleaner than a week ago," Pelini said. "I saw a lot of progress. I saw a lot better communication. I saw a lot better understanding of our game plan -- therefore our preparation was better across the board."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's a sense of urgency because we want to be the best. I think we have a championship defense, I think we can do things on special teams to a championship level and we have to raise our performance on offense because we're not shooting for 7-6." -- Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, on the Spartans improving on last season's record after an unimpressive start this season.
NCAAF Team Report - Ohio State - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 2 IN THE BIG TEN:
1. Michigan's offense looks to be potent as anyone's in the conference with Devin Gardner at quarterback.
Gardner, a wide receiver for much of last season, performed on a huge stage against a competent Notre Dame defense. It's one thing to put up big numbers against an FCS opponent, but his four touchdown passes and a rushing TD against a team that played for the BCS championship in January makes a statement.
Michigan's 41 points were the second most the Wolverines have scored in the 41-game rivalry with Notre Dame.
"We're going to be multiple enough personnel-wise and also multiple enough from a formation standpoint, with two backs, three backs, whatever it takes, another offensive tackle in, a lot of different things that we like to do," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said of the offense. "This was more like what we want to do."
2. Illinois might not be as bad as some thought going into the season. A resounding win over a Cincinnati team that pounded Purdue a week earlier gave the Fighting Illini a 2-0 record under second-year coach Tim Beckman and turned a few heads in the process.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has shown flashes of ability during his career but finally might have an offense that utilizes his talents. The Illini totaled 522 yards against Cincinnati.
Beckman, who has been criticized in some corners as a bad choice for the job, has to feel a little better about the direction of his team. But two of the Illini's next three games are against ranked teams -- Washington and Nebraska -- which will be a better gauge of how good they really are or whether the first two games are simply a mirage.
3. Michigan State's quarterback situation has more controversy than clarity after the unspectacular win over South Florida on Saturday. Connor Cook, Tyler O'Connor and Andrew Maxwell all played and none distinguished himself in any way.
"We're evaluating things day to day. Practice to practice, as it should be," coach Mark Dantonio said. "Nobody's out of the mix. I don't care how many people boo me or boo us. Nobody's out of the mix; everybody has an opportunity. The bottom line is you have to be productive."
Dantonio is so concerned that he called a Sunday practice for skill position players. MLive.com reported that freshman Damion Terry is also in the quarterback mix this week.
MSU quarterbacks have completed just 47.5 percent of their passes in the first two games.
4. Don't punch Indiana's ticket to a bowl game just yet. While the offense offers optimism, the defensive deficiencies rekindle old concerns about the Hoosiers' inability to stop opponents.
Granted, Indiana won't face another triple-option team like Navy, but Big Ten teams such as Wisconsin and Ohio State, to name two, do have the ability to run the ball.
After the Hoosiers gave up 444 yards rushing to the Midshipmen, an Indianapolis columnist wrote, "Three years into the Kevin Wilson era and they are still a defensive embarrassment."
That might be a bit overstated, but the defense definitely has yet to catch up with the offense under Wilson.
5. Northwestern showed its diversity on offense with a downfield passing attack in a 48-27 victory over Syracuse on Saturday. Coupled with a solid running game, the Wildcats become more difficult for defenses to handle.
"When you look at something we tried to fix coming into this season, it was definitely getting the ball downfield and having some big games in the passing game and we've got some guys outside that can make those big plays," Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter said. "This year, in particular, we've just got weapons on the outside and we felt like that's something we wanted to capitalize (on) and something we didn't do in past years."
One of the deep threats for Colter and quarterback sidekick Trevor Siemian is wide receiver Tony Jones, who had nine receptions for 185 yards and a touchdown against the Orange to boost his totals after two games to 255 yards receiving and two TDs.
"After two weeks, I'd like to think that we're as balanced as anybody. We've got two very dynamic quarterbacks," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "They're really playing well within the framework of what we're doing and complementing each other really well."